As efforts to preserve video game history continue, we still stumble upon things that once seemed lost to time. This includes games dating back to the Atari 2600 days, such as this 44-year-old title made by Atari back in the 70s.
The game is called Sonar, and was developed by programmer Brad Stewart during his time at Atari. According to Atari Protos, Sonar was one of two unreleased Atari 2600 games Stewart worked on alongside Morse Code Tutor.
Stewart originally described Sonar as a “toy version of Battleship,” but it has some distinct differences from the original strategy game. As Atari Protos notes, Sonar has to design around the game taking place on one screen, rather than two divided boards like Battleship does. The original game has players setting down a series of ships on a grid, with your opponent guessing coordinates to launch an attack and strike them. To emulate this, Sonar hides the target ships and has players move freely around the screen and find them in real-time. It’s a clever workaround that made the most of the technology at hand.
Up until recently, the game was thought lost because Stewart didn’t have a copy and he wasn’t sure what became of any remaining ROMs, but a prototype was recently found in the collection of Jim Snyder, who worked at Atari in the 1980s.
“I am sad I didn’t get to speak with the owner,” said a user on the Atari Age forums who claims to have attained the prototype. “He passed away shortly after I met his daughter. She told me they threw away a ton of floppies and I told her to get me everything and anything atari from his garage...I pretty much saved this stuff from the landfills of the bay area.”
The games were reportedly offered to a museum, who apparently declined them.
All that being said, Atari Protos says Sonar does seem to be missing some features and has some bugs, which is to be expected for an unfinished prototype. These hiccups include some flickering when using some features like the sonar scan, and it only has one pre-programmed map. The game’s code seems to indicate that a finished version would have had randomized boards, which would give it more replay value, but it looks like that wasn’t implemented yet in the prototype before it was shelved.
If you want to try Sonar yourself, the ROM has been posted to Atari Age for download.